The Synergy of Animal Welfare
By: Melanie Rushforth, Vice President, Veterinary Services SPCA Serving Erie County
“Synergy – the bonus that is achieved when things work together harmoniously.” – Mark Twain
Last week, the SPCA Serving Erie County adopted out a perfectly handsome and charming orange kitty named Nugget. Aside from his dashing looks and social personality (can you tell the author has a thing for these orange guys?!), Nugget’s adoption was the culmination of efforts across county lines, with the goal of serving animals in need, strengthening relationships, and building bonds to help pets live long and healthy lives in life-long happy homes.
Like any other business, nonprofit organizations like the SPCA Serving Erie County and other animal welfare organizations spend strategic time thinking about how to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. How are we as individual organizations meeting the needs of our community? How are we adapting to the changing societal climate? What makes what we do unique and worthy of support? And of course, how can we be better?
Inward thinking is critical in developing impactful marketing and fundraising solicitations. However, when our shared goal is making real, lasting change, it is just as important to look outside of each individual organization. Animal welfare is looking more and more like a social justice movement, and we are gradually getting better and more intentional about honoring the role of the humans in all this work.
As much as we’d like to think any of our individual nonprofit organizations are uniquely equipped to change the world, we can’t always do it on our own. If we’re to have a true and lasting impact on our missions, regardless of our intended audiences, partnerships are an essential part of our existence. It takes everybody rowing in the same direction, tackling resource deserts and inequity hand-in-hand, and focusing more on reaching our common goals than on who gets credit for the effort.
The challenge for many nonprofits is not just admitting this reality but learning how to find those essential partners. Perhaps even more important, though, is identifying partners who are the right fit for both organizations and our beneficiaries. The bigger the goal, the greater the challenge and the more resources required to reach it. No one organization can single-handedly tackle these challenges alone and be successful.
Neighboring Wyoming County is home to the Wyoming County SPCA, a much smaller animal welfare organization than the SPCA Serving Erie County in size, but certainly not in heart. While the SPCA Serving Erie County has nearly 100 employees and more than 1,000 volunteers (not yet all reactivated due to COVID), Wyoming County SPCA has one employee and far fewer volunteers. They’re served the community with love and compassion since 1905, and access medical care and treatment for every animal in their care with the intent of placing a healthy, fully vetted pet in his or her forever home. It’s with an intentional collaborative relationship that the SPCA Serving Erie County got to meet and help Nugget and Abbey in their journeys to their forever homes. (Even though Abbey is a fantastic cat, I’m going to tell you Nugget’s story.)
Nugget had been in the care of Wyoming County SPCA for several months. He had an incredibly comfortable room, with a window seat and a sunny view to the outdoors. He received love, attention, and all the wet food his adorable orange heart desired. He had pretty severe medical needs and would not be eligible for adoption before those were addressed. Wyoming County SPCA does not have an in-house veterinary team (not terribly uncommon) and relied on a local veterinary hospital to help with the shelter population when needs arose. This is a perfectly normal arrangement for many rural shelters throughout the country. The board of directors at Wyoming County SPCA is very hands-on, and while satisfied with what they could provide to their community, knew they would like to do more, and were open to the idea of doing what they were doing better, all in an effort to provide the safest and most compassionate service to pets in need.
Wyoming County SPCA reached out to the SPCA Serving Erie County and arranged for a visit to the shelter in late 2020. The ideas began brewing, and each organization looked forward to future conversations and the endless opportunities ahead to collaborate on how to place healthy pets in loving homes. COVID created new challenges with access to veterinary care, especially in areas that were already limited. SPCA Serving Erie County wanted to help.
Nugget’s initial veterinary exam indicated that he had some serious dental concerns, and that he also had an unidentified mass in his mouth that was causing severe swelling and discomfort. Dental procedures are costly in a best-case scenario; and Nugget had several concerns that would require specialized care and attention. The SPCA Serving Erie County was able to coordinate a transfer from Wyoming County to Erie County so we could treat Nugget and monitor his extensive recovery in our in-house ICU. Nugget recovered beautifully, and the biopsy of his mass came back benign. Nugget was even more charming once he felt better, and we couldn’t have imagined that was even possible.
The cost of Nugget’s treatment and care was nearly $1,600, and this cost isn’t always as feasible for smaller organizations, especially as funding has been impacted heavily because of the effects of the pandemic. This effort on the part of the SPCA Serving Erie County, and the trust of the Wyoming County SPCA resulted in a healthy Nugget finding a perfectly loving owner shortly after being released from medical hold! Nugget didn’t know he was part of a larger effort, and neither did his adopter.
The result of any collaborative partnership is that ideally both organizations are stronger. The alliance effectively secures a sustainable future for both organizations and tangibly demonstrates trust, collaboration, and a unified message to the greater community. We look forward to more opportunities to help more pets in need and couldn’t do this work without the trust and backing of our supporters.